On the 3rd April 2015, Good Friday, Killing Jesus, the movie from Bill O’Reilly’s best seller of the same name screened on Discovery Chanel. If a church bell chimed every time the script dropped a clanger the poor bell-ringer would have eventually dropped from exhaustion. O’Reilly, a catholic, fronts Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, the top rated cable news show for the last 16 years – and counting. Books are also published under his name, with the profits going to charity. They generally sell really well so there must be a number of charities doing well from Bill’s efforts.
When he chose to do a book on Jesus it was almost a foregone conclusion that it would barely cover the essentials of Jesus’ ministry. If the film version is anything to go by the prediction proved to be right. What a travesty the movie is. Without going into a blow by blow account lets deal with the main problems.
First up, the adult Jesus had to be convinced he was the Messiah, when in fact the Bible narrative confirms Jesus knew who he was from a young age. At age 12 he was in the synagogues teaching and proclaiming he was the Messiah as foretold in Isaiah 61. Next there were the miracles. They confirmed Jesus was the Son of God, but they hardly get a look in in Killing Jesus. One exorcism is depicted, but it would hardly rank as a miraculous event. There is no command given to the demon to go, no prayer, only some baleful looks into space that were supposed to pass for something vaguely mysterious. Jesus is even shown as a little surprised when the boy returns to normal.
John the Baptist is given something resembling a star billing as he works on Jesus to start being the Messiah. This, of course, is completely a-biblical. When John baptises Jesus Christians who know their Bible, even at a basic level, would have been waiting to here God the Father’s pronouncement that he was pleased with his son. No, that was all missing too. In fact throughout the movie God hardly gets a look in. John is shown as the premier religious leader whom Jesus publicly defends, once John is arrested. The sense of it is that Jesus was just filling in after John had gone. The whole nature, purpose and meaning of the Messiah is almost entirely missing because Jesus’ central connection to universal salvation for all who believe is never explained. Instead he is made out to be more of a champion for Jewishness and a rabble-rouser who is able to raise a following after John’s arrest. When Jesus tells the high priest he is indeed the Son of God the story writers have Caiaphas misquote Jesus, by denouncing him as prophet and not as the Messiah. Once again the deity of the Christ is reduced. He is merely denounced as a prophet. Hardly a reason to have him crucified.
The book/movie’s Catholic influence comes out in two obvious ways. First of all, Mary is given a larger role than any biblical narrative gives her. There is little evidence beyond the water into wine miracle (not shown in the movie) that Mary played any central role in Jesus ministry, but it is depicted otherwise in the movie. At one point he looks to Mary and says, “the pain of absence has been terrible.” There is no record of Jesus saying this in the gospels. It is simply added to convey a sense that Jesus as somehow dependent on Mary. Then we have the post-crucifixion period. We never see the resurrected Jesus! The actual resurrection and its significance is brushed over, like the miracles and the gospel itself. We are left at the end of the movie with Peter in his boat praying for a net-full of fish and then gazing into the heavens in wonder as the fish come. This and an earlier miss-application of Jesus’ reference to Peter and the rock upon which his Church would be built was an obvious allusion to the Catholic claim to a papal, vicar of Christ, line of succession from Peter.
From a properly Christian perspective Killing Jesus is a very poor presentation of Jesus’ significance. His deity and his purpose are hardly touched on. The non-Christian is likely to think Jesus was just a motivated factional leader and some sort of prophet, assuming they even know what the word signifies. The true Christian just feels cheated and indignant. At best the movie illustrates the extent to which the meaning of Christ Jesus amongst us 2000 years ago has been lost or ignored.
If this movie reflects the tenor of his book then O’Reilly has done the cause of Christ a disservice, and backhanded the gospel. If people are taking the book and the movie seriously they are truly deluded, or ignorant of the truth.